MADRID (AP) — Atletico Madrid's transformation from perennial collapse artists into confident, game-hardened Spanish league champions comes down to coach Diego Simeone.
Exquisitely clad in an all-black suit with his hair slicked back tight, Simeone's confidence stood strong during a season when Atletico ultimately surpassed Barcelona and Real Madrid as everyone waited for it to do the inevitable, and slip-up.
"You enjoy it. I sleep well because this is my passion, and I'm in the place where I want to be, coaching the team I want to be," said Simeone, who became the fifth Argentine coach to win the league. "I can't complain."
Even the 99,000-capacity Camp Nou spectators were grateful for the first non-Barcelona or Madrid champion since Valencia in 2004, as chants of "Atleti" showered the visitors after they won their 10th title and first in 18 years.
"What we're trying to do is to show society and other clubs that if you keep working you can compete," said Simeone, whose season-long discourses have often touched on Atletico's "of the people" character.
"This is nothing new, but beyond whoever wins in the end, people from all Spanish football teams will reflect on this Atletico Madrid and think how far their own teams can go."
Simeone preached discipline, team work, and camaraderie week after week — win or lose. And while such words are chalked up to sport cliches perhaps, in Atletico's case, it wasn't just a turn of phrase.
The 44-year-old Simeone, who sometimes references star signs in making decisions, managed to turn around a team featuring few world-class talents and mostly discarded players into a champion despite all of the doubters waiting for Atletico and its unexpected rise to eventually implode.
"Last season we started very strongly and with nine games left we were nine points back of Barca and the coach said it was possible. It wasn't then, but you could see the vision our coach had," defender Luis Filipe said.
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